Ronan Keating’s hit song, “Life is a rollercoaster, you just gotta ride it”, has a lot more resonance for us now than it ever did. The ups and downs, twist and turns, highs and lows navigated at what feels like break-neck speed can leave us shaken and rattled. For some, the ride is exciting, for others terrifying, and for yet others a white-knuckle ride leaving us feeling more than a little sick, even if we can raise a laugh now and again at how ridiculous it is that we put ourselves through this.
Real life has been just as traumatic for many, if not all of us. Lurching disappointment, rising dread, sickening anxiety, and the thought that the cart you are travelling in could spin off the rails at any moment taking you with it, is perhaps not a million miles away from our responses as we live with so much turmoil, uncertainty, and loss.
To carry the rollercoaster metaphor further we may be either desperately trying to hang on for dear life or feeling trapped, longing for the ‘train’ to come to a halt, or at least to slow down giving us relief, allowing our bodies and emotions to settle into a calmer state.
In truth, although it feels as if we are not in control, we do have the power and the responsibility to put on the brakes.
No matter how rewarding we find ministry, the challenges of the last few years and those that lie ahead, mean that many of us have had to ‘park’ our own emotional responses to be able deal with the immediate. There are times when this is necessary for a short period of time. The difficulty arises when the time we plan to set aside to tend to ourselves emotionally keeps getting pushed further and further down the road.
Not long after accepting the invitation to write about maintaining emotional wellbeing, I experienced what felt like a tsunami of grief. Several personal and potential losses all converged at the same time, impacting my capacity to contain myself emotionally. This forced me to put into practice what I sometimes forget – the need to prioritise my own emotional self-care.
Two questions from Psalm 42 are particularly helpful to me when I am in the middle of an emotional ‘storm’. I returned to these, and so share them in the hope they are helpful.
‘When can I go and meet with God?’ and, ‘Why, my soul, are you downcast?’
Identifying with the psalmist’s longing I need to translate this into action. My diary must prioritise extended time so that I can put myself into God’s care as I tend to my emotions.
‘Why, my soul, are you downcast?’ is the necessary work of exploring the nature of my emotional response, identifying and naming what underpins it. Only by doing that do I discover the nature of my hurt, loss or fear and am then able to bring it to God for comfort, reassurance and healing.
Sometimes this work is alone, praying, reading, writing, walking, worship. At other times, it is with a trusted friend or friends in company with Jesus, sharing, listening, and praying.
Putting myself into God’s care and asking these questions has meant that the ongoing work of attending to my grief is much lighter. God grace always meets me there.
My prayer is that we will all prioritise the time to meet with God and allow the Good Shepherd to tend to us as we tend to others.
Rev Anne Redpath
Chaplain, Presbytery of Perth